President Donald Trump is mandating federal agencies pay more attention to the buy-American rules on the books. The president is expected to sign an executive order April 18 requiring agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom assessment of the procurement rules and get rid of any loopholes that would give foreign products an advantage over American ones.
The Buy American, Hire American order is part of Trump’s campaign promise to promote American workers and American manufacturing.
The Hire American part of the executive order requires agencies to review and administratively strengthen the rules around work visas such as H-1B.
“The buy-and-hire rules have been diluted over time,” said a senior administration official during a briefing on April 17. “The buy-America waiver and exemption process has resulted in lost job opportunities for American workers, and the hire-American visa and labor policies have been unenforced or rendered inoperative.”
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Under the Buy American section of the order, the White House is taking on three separate legislative provisions — the Berry Amendment, the 1994 provision in the Defense Authorization Act, the 1933 Buy American Act and the Buy America provisions of the Recovery Act — and addressing what senior administration officials say are much-needed fortifications.
“The EO ushers in a more muscular buy-American policy. We are maximizing made in America,” the official said. “Every agency will conduct a top-to-bottom assessment and root out every buy-American loophole. Then, the Commerce Secretary will coordinate efforts and advise how to close those loopholes.”
The official said the executive order also will require Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative to look at how the government issues waivers to buy American in free-trade agreements.
“If it turns out America is a net loser because of a free-trade agreement, and there are agreements with 60 countries, they may be renegotiated,” the official said.
The official outlined the four main points of the order:
The hire-American part of the order would direct the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor and State to propose new rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse. Those departments would also be asked to offer changes so that H-1B visas are awarded to the “most-skilled or highest-paid applicants.”
The White House said the program is currently undercutting American workers by bringing in cheaper labor and said some tech companies are using it to hire large numbers of workers and drive down wages.
Congress is considering several bills to overhaul the visa program. One, introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would require companies seeking H-1B visas to first make a good-faith effort to hire Americans, a requirement many companies can dodge under the current system; give the Labor Department more power to investigate and sanction H-1B abuses; and give “the best and brightest” foreign students studying in the U.S. priority in getting H-1B visas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.